Some organisations seem to have spotted them. The GSM Association (currently active standardising NFC in SIM and so on) cheerfully point out that there are 6.5 billion people on the planet, that close to 3 billion of them have a mobile phone and less than one billion have a bank account. Mobile communications operators and banks joined forces on Monday to make it easier and cheaper for hundreds of millions of immigrants and migrant workers to send money home by using their mobile phones. Now, the GSMA and a group of operators are going to work with banks to provide services to migrant workers and take a chunk of the $230 billion international remittances market. The aim is to reduce the transaction costs of sending small amounts of cash to just a few percent, from a current 20%+ for amounts as small as $50. They hope to double the number of recipients of international remittances to more than 1.5 billion, while helping to quadruple the size of the remittances market to more than $1 trillion by 2012. Mobile operators plan to partner with bank and MasterCard will pilot a global hub that will link together national markets and the local payment systems run by mobile operators in partnership with those local banks. The idea is that people can load cash on their mobile, and order it to be sent to a mobile phone number in another country, where the recipient receives a message that money has arrived, making it as easy as sending a text message, much as they can with the Vodafone M-PESA scheme in Kenya, now extended in partnership with Citi so that people in the will be able to use their mobiles to send money to people in Kenya (with extension to Eastern European and Asian markets, such as Poland and India, in the near future).
Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and managing director of Indian mobile operator Bharti Airtel says that these developments will "revolutionise the money transfer industry with its advantages, such as reach, ease of use, and lower transaction costs and provide immense benefits to people in developing nations such as India", and I’m sure he’s right. But will it be a disruptive innovation. In other words, will people make money in new ways, or will need people make money in the old ways (ie, transaction fees)? India may well be a good place to find out, as it is both the world’s fastest growing mobile services market and the biggest recipient of overseas remittances in the world, accounting for around 10 percent of the world market. The State Bank of India, the country’s largest, is also participating in the project, so what happens in India ought to be a useful indicator of how the scheme might develop. Which remind me. If only Mr. Leedladhar, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India, had come along to the Digital Money Forum last year. Then he would have know that his forward-looking suggestion that Indians in rural areas might be able to bank and make payments using a SIM card is actually rather old hat, since M-PESA (amongst others) has been up and running for some time. He even goes so far as to suggest "This (SIM card) could function as a multi-application smart card, with some cash stored in it, in the form of e-cash."
My opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public. [posted with ecto]